How Matt Vanda Went from Action Hero to Accused
by Doug Frattallone
Early Spring 2004

To say the least, it's been a winter of discontent for Matt Vanda.

Rewind to Jan. 16, inside the Minneapolis Convention Center. ESPN2 crews were there to televise "The Predator's" Friday night fight with Sam Garr, his toughest opponent to date. Vanda would win the 10-round split decision — his first TV bout — and his pro record would remain unblemished at 30-0.

That was the good news. After that, it's been nothing but body blows to the pride of St. Paul's East Side, starting with the negative buzz from the fight. When the contest was over, it was apparent Vanda would — by most accounts — be the recipient of a hometown decision. That's expected in close fights — but some feel the out-of-towner Garr won handily, and was robbed. Looking back, it may turn out to be the least of Vanda's worries.

Fast-forward to Jan. 30. The junior middleweight would make the newspapers again, but the story had nothing to do with boxing. Vanda, 25, was arrested on charges of drug possession. St. Paul police found "small amounts" of suspected methamphetamine and mushrooms. His roommate, Derek Nelson Burr, 30, was also arrested. Police say Burr was carrying about 8 ounces of suspected marijuana in his car.

Fast-forward again, to Feb. 12. The Ramsey County attorney formally charged Vanda with possessing cocaine with the intent to sell the drug. The drug was allegedly found during a police search of the boxer's bedroom. His roommate, Burr, was charged with possessing marijuana with intent to sell and possessing psilocybin mushrooms with intent to sell.

Vanda, touted as a junior middleweight to watch, a St. Paul boxer on the verge of greatness — suddenly had more to worry about than if he was getting too much hometown cookin' by the fight judges.

"It hit us like a wrecking ball," said Vanda's former manager, Tommy Brunette. "I never saw it coming."

Brunette, who says he's known Vanda since he was 12 years old, says The Predator is no longer affiliated with his Arcade Street Gym. After Vanda's initial arrest, Brunette would only say that he and the boxer had "a brief conversation." And that was it ... a parting of the ways.

Former heavyweight contender Scott LeDoux — who is now a commentator for ESPN — says Vanda "left on his own volition," hinting that Vanda was trying to divorce himself from the Brunette's, instead of the other way around. There was no comment from Brunette on who left who. It should also be mentioned that LeDoux and Brunette display little love for each other ... with Matt Vanda at the center of their vitriol.

Rewind, again, to the Minneapolis Convention Center. LeDoux said he was sitting at ringside, and couldn't believe Garr didn't win the fight that Friday night.

"It wasn't close," LeDoux recalled. "He (Garr) outscored him by 150 punches." One judge scored the fight 97-95 for Garr, the other two had it 97-95 and 97-93 for Vanda. As a result, The Predator would walk away the winner. "The decision was atrocious," LeDoux told "It was one of he worst decisions I have ever seen."

"I don't agree with that at all," Brunette countered. "I thought Matt had an edge. He had Garr hurt, he had Garr bleeding. It wasn't an atrocious decision. (It was) a good, tough fight."

Brunette claims LeDoux has always carried "a bad torch" for Vanda, and
went so far as to accuse the ex-fighter of "poisoning" fellow ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas on Vanda. Atlas, who called the fight that night, also thought Garr had won.

When told of Brunette's allegation, LeDoux guffawed. "I don't even talk to Teddy," he said. "I haven't spoken to him before, since or afterwards. It's a joke. I deal in truth. He (Brunette) has a bitterness towards me because I'm for truth and honesty."

"Watch the fight, turn off the sound," Brunette suggested, saying that without the Atlas commentary, one would have a different opinion of who really won.

While it seems improbable that the gap between LeDoux and Brunette will be sealed this century, both men do agree on one thing: they hope Vanda is proven innocent of the drug charges hanging over his head.

"You're innocent until proven guilty," LeDoux said. "I hope this (the charges) is not true." As does Vanda's ex-manager, Brunette, who says the whole episode is simply a sad affair: "Matt's got the biggest fight of his life coming up right now."